The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 15th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 15th 2013


I am an independent analyst and consultant with 19 years of experience as a sell side technology analyst and 13 years of prior experience as an electronics designer and software developer.

The purpose of the Geek’s Reading List is to draw attention to interesting articles I encounter from time to time. I hope that what I find interesting you will find interesting as well. These articles are not to be construed as investment advice, even though I may opine on the wisdom of the markets from time to time. That being said, it is absolutely important that investors understand the industry in which they are investing, along with the trends and developments within that industry. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included, please send them on to me!

I blog at


Brian Piccioni

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1.        Microsoft Is Basically Screwed In The Tablet Sector, IDC Says

The usual caveats regarding industry analyst research apply here, even though I agree with the conclusion. Besides a fundamentally flawed approach to the market, Microsoft is late to the game and really doesn’t offer much in the way of differentiation, unless you absolutely need some form or real or imagined Windows compatibility.

“When Microsoft said that it would fork its new Windows 8 operating system in two to support both x86 and ARM-based chips, most pundits figured that was a good idea. Windows had for too long been stuck in the world of x86 and was missing the Mobile Revolution with its reluctance to adopt ARM. Henceforth, two types of Windows tablets were born: Windows 8 on x86 and Windows RT on ARM. And both have more or less flopped.”

2.        The coming Windows 8 mini tablets: Netbooks revisited?

Frankly, it’s hard to believe Microsoft can get $120 for Windows 8 (or any other version of Windows), especially in an OEM version. I believe we’ll see Android tablets priced well below $200 in the coming year or so, and that won’t leave much room for even a $30 license fee to Microsoft.

“The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that according to its sources, Microsoft is offering its PC partners Windows 8 plus Office at a substantial discount — $30 per copy price — as opposed to the $120 one that they’ve supposedly been paying for Windows 8.”

3.        Four months in, Windows 8 needs help

Yes, exactly: people refer a desktop mode when using a desktop or laptop. They prefer a tablet mode when using a tablet. Selling an operating system which runs a tablet/touch user interface on a desktop or laptop, especially one without a touch screen, is a dumb idea. How could Microsoft not get that?

“There were certain decisions that Microsoft made that were in retrospect flawed. Notably not allowing people to boot into desktop mode and taking away the start button. Those two things have come up consistently. We’ve done some research and people miss that. And there are a lot of people that as soon as they boot into Windows 8, they go to desktop mode and do most their work there and occasionally back to Metro. But the point being they’re much more comfortable with desktop mode.”

4.        How I ditched the security risks and lived without Java, Reader, and Flash

I recently uninstalled Adobe reader, so I now have one less weekly software update. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out how to get rid of Java since a number of electronics development tools are written in it. Flash is surely on the way out – which makes you wonder about Adobe’s long term outlook.

“Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and Oracle’s Java. All three are virtually ubiquitous on modern-day PCs, and all three provide handy-dandy functionality—functionality that, in the case of Flash and Java, can’t be directly reproduced by a third-party solution. If we lived in a vacuum, it would be hard to argue that the trio doesn’t deserve its spot on computers around the globe. We don’t live in a vacuum, though.”

5.        Apple’s mobile dominance is done for now, analyses find

When they turn against you, they turn in a big way, as this story and the next demonstrate. The real problem is not so much Apple’s apparent decline as the natural propensity to deify successful CEOs and their respective companies. Every technology company follows an arc: it can be long or short, and very rarely (as in the case of Apple), it’s a double arc. They may be able to make it a third time, but the market is reflexive and nowadays driven more by fashion than anything else. Witness the current hype over Samsung’s newest smartphone release.

“Apple (AAPL) has dominated the mobile device market since basically inventing the sector with the iPhone and iPad, but tablets running the Android operating system will overtake the iPad in 2013 much as smartphones utilizing Google’s (GOOG) offering already have, according to a study released Tuesday.”

6.        Adblock Plus for Android removed from Google Play store

One thing that is certain is Google knows what side of the bread the butter is on. It is worth noting that at least under Android you don’t have to use their site to load apps. At least not for now.

“In a rather surprising move, Google removed Adblock Plus and other ad blocking apps from the Google Play store due to “interference with another service or product in an unauthorized manner.” This looks like a course change at Google, until recently the main distinction between Android and iPhone was that Android allowed you to install any app as long as it wasn’t malicious (meaning that it’s obvious what the app does).”

7.        Samsung, Apple to step into path toward wireless charging for smartphones

‘Wireless charging” is a bit is a misnomer as these are simply inductively coupled. I have an electric toothbrush which does the same thing. It is convenient, but not rocket science. One nice thing about inductive charging, especially when coupled with a touch screen, is that you can easily make a weatherproof device.

“Following the steps of Nokia, LG Electronics and HTC, Samsung Electronics and Apple are expected to add wireless charging capability to their flagship models in 2013, according to industry sources. Samsung is expected to adopt Qi wireless charging technology run by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) for its next flagship model, the Galaxy S IV, the sources indicated.”

8.        SXSW: How Mobile Devices Are Changing Africa

Mobile technology does several things, but most of all it is a communications technology. In North America, that means tweeting about the latest celebrity. In Africa it means a transformed economy as pricing visibility improves. It also means the hair shirt of corruption is made less visible, which is a bad thing for the status quo.

“Mobile phones are kicking off a revolution in Africa, with everyone from farmers to villagers relying on apps to make electronic payments, check on expiration dates for medicine, and predict future storms or the best prices for produce. In a SXSW session titled “The $100bn Mobile Bullet Train Called Africa” (which would also be a pretty good name for one of the indie films playing at this massive convention), Tech4Africa founder Gareth Knight explained the contours of this revolution.”

9.        With Mobile Apps And Hardware, YC-Backed Automatic Launches To Help You Get More Out Of Your Car

This is a brilliant idea, and it makes you wonder why nobody else has done it. The major barrier to adoption will likely be the need to hook something up to the OBD connector (I’m assuming that’s what you need to do) because that connector is rarely in an obvious location. It’s high time automobile OEMs switched to WiFi anyhow.

“People spend a ton of money on their cars every year, from car payments to insurance to gas to maintenance. But for such expensive assets, most people normally don’t know a whole lot about what’s happening under the hood, or how they can drive or maintain their cars better over time. The folks at Automatic want to change all that, with a smart combination of hardware and mobile apps to keep people better informed of how their cars are doing.”

10.   31% of Kenya’s GDP is spent through mobile phones

Another example of how the advent of mobile telephony is transforming the developing world. Evidently, Kenyan banks, like so many financial institutions, had it too cosy for too long. One cannot help but imagine to what extent the Kenyan GDP is understated as a consequence of the ‘Black’ economy. Who knows – maybe the use of things like M-Pesa will improve visibility in that regard and result in more efficient tax collection as well.

“Pundits like to talk about how developing countries can “leapfrog” rich countries by skipping certain stages of development—for example, by going straight to an economy based on renewable energy without first passing through a phase of messy fossil-fuel based industrialization—but it rarely happens. M-Pesa, the system of mobile payments first launched in Kenya, is an exception.”

11.   Patient has 75 per cent of his skull replaced by 3D-printed implant

A bit of a misleading headline in terms of area, but an impressive application nonetheless. I can see a time when entire bones are replaced with custom made 3D printed implants.

“The un-named patient in the United States had his head imaged by a 3D scanner before the plastic prosthetic was crafted to suit his features. Oxford Performance Materials in Connecticut then gained approval from US regulators before the printed bone replacement was inserted in his skull during a surgical procedure earlier this week.”

12.   New Balance uses 3D printing technique to customize track shoes

It’s been a big week in 3D printing announcements. I am not sure that the market for custom printed spikes is a large one however one can imagine that custom fitted footwear (especially the lowers) could emerge. After all the rather disreputable orthotics market could simply be displaced by $20 inserts printed “while you wait.”

“In a press release, New Balance said it has “developed a proprietary process for utilizing a runner’s individual biomechanical data to create hyper-customized spike plates designed to improve performance. The process requires race-simulation biomechanical data which the New Balance Sports Research Lab collects using a force plate, in-shoe sensors, and a motion capture system. Advanced algorithms and software are then applied to translate this data into custom 3D printed spike designs.”

13.   Leading supplier lauds 3D printing as jewellery industry “shape changer”

The jewelry business is an obvious place for 3D printing due to the low volume/high mix nature of the product. I am rather surprised they are push 3D sintering, especially given the cost of the ‘toner’: I would have expected them to produce a wax replica and use traditional ‘lost wax’ techniques to produce the final product.

“Speaking to BBC News, chief executive of Cookson Precious Metals Stella Leyton said as a result of new developments, high street shoppers can expect to see more personalised jewellery offered by retailers. The technique used in jewellery-making is known as laser sintering and is being employed by the company to produce jewellery from computer designs. There are many advantages to adopting this method – which has been used within the industry for some time – as it allows for complex designs to be made more expediently, while they can be quickly altered and produced.”

Another interesting 3D printing app

14.   Makerbot announces new desktop 3D scanner—you know, to go with your 3D printer

3D scanners have been around for some time, but this is the first ‘consumer grade’ product I’ve seen. Frankly this is the sort of thing even an enthusiast would use rarely – there is probably a market for Staples or a similar company to offer professional quality 3D scanning as a service.

“We are super excited to be able to announce at SXSW Interactive that we are developing the MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner,” said Bre Pettis, the company’s CEO, in a statement on Friday. “It’s a natural progression for us to create a product that makes 3D printing even easier. With the MakerBot Digitizer, now everyone will be able to scan a physical item, digitize it, and print it in 3D—with little or no design experience.”

15.   Netflix Chief Product Officer: expect 4K streaming within a year or two

I am, frankly, surprised at the position Netflix is in as I would have expected the content producers to simply set up their own distribution systems, or, perhaps, establish a cooperative venture like Netflix. In any event, there is some interesting reading here. I remain unconvinced that 4K will attract much in the way of consumer interest, however.

“Neil Hunt is likely the most important Netflix executive that nobody’s ever heard of. While everyone in tech media knows CEO Reed Hastings and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, Hunt’s kept a low profile despite the pivotal position he holds as the company’s chief product officer. Hunt looks after the video service’s technology, including the streaming platform, as well as the tech behind the new feature announced yesterday, which will enable subscribers to share what they watch with their Facebook friends.”

16.   Ink v electrons Range anxiety

I don’t pay attention to automobile ‘driving tests’ because they don’t tell me anything I need to know about a car: namely how long it is going to last and whether I’ll be happy with my purchase in two or three years. Reviews of electric cars tend to be staged and avoid the major issue: the short life and high cost of batteries. In any event, anybody commenting on Telsa should have a good look at their balance sheet.

“What’s clear is that Elon Musk is not someone to readily brook criticism. A few years back, for instance, the co-founder of PayPal, an online payment service, and, more recently, the founder of Tesla Motors, a maker of battery-powered cars, went to war with the BBC over a story on the cheeky Top Gear, a wildly popular car show. He ultimately lost.”

17.   The 500MW molten salt nuclear reactor: Safe, half the price of light water, and shipped to order

Every now and then we read about novel reactor designs which promise to be safe than existing ones. I actually expect they are safe, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be successful: the ‘Green’ crowd is well experienced at making everybody afraid of everything which smack of innovation on the energy front, except the ‘deemed Kosher’ ones like solar and wind power. Unfortunately, public policy is drive by experiences with Gen 0 and Gen 1 reactors, which is a bit like basing aviation regulations on the safety record of the Wright Flyer.

“Nuclear power basically comes down to two issues: Safety and cost. Nobody denies that mass nuclear has the raw production capacity to provide for our energy needs through the remotely foreseeable future, but some argue that doing so would either bankrupt us, sicken us, or both.”

18.   Anatomy of a problem – Bitcoin loses 25% in value due to a long-missed bug

Unfortunately, I don’t really understand much of the technical discussion however this does show the weakness of an ‘algorithmic’ currency. By currency, of course, I mean a recognized token of exchange. Like tulip bulbs once were …

“We’ve written several times about the controversial decentralised digital currency known as Bitcoin. Bitcoin is an algorithmic currency, backed not by printed banknotes or government assurances, but by a database of cryptographic proofs-of-work.”

19.   Infinite loop: the Sinclair ZX Microdrive story

This article is a fun walk down memory lane. I had forgotten the Microdrive story, and, in retrospect, it is rather surprising that a smart guy like Sinclair would have gone for a solution based on the notoriously problematic ‘8 track’ model. After all roads used to be littered with discard 8 track tapes which had failed and that problem would only be worse with thinner tape and higher transport speeds.

“They would, Clive Sinclair claimed on 23 April 1982, revolutionise home computer storage. Significantly cheaper than the established 5.25-inch and emerging 3.5-inch floppy drives of the time – though not as capacious or as fast to serve up files – ‘Uncle’ Clive’s new toy would “change the face of personal computing”, Sinclair Research’s advertising puffed. Yet this “remarkable breakthrough at a remarkable price” would take more than 18 months more to come to market. In the meantime, it would become a byword for delays and disappointment – and this in an era when almost every promised product arrived late.”

20.   Irreversible Evolution? Dust Mites Show Parasites Can Violate Dollo’s Law

Unfortunately this story (and similar dumb headlines) got a lot of attention on various science websites over the past few days. I say unfortunately, because, well, nobody should assume the opinion of scientist should count for anything, especially if that opinion is 100 years out of date. And, this will give the babbling proponents of creationism something to prattle about. Evolution is not likely to ‘reversible’ for the simple reason that ‘undoing’ a series of mutations is mathematically improbable. Of course, Dollo would not have known that because they had no idea what drove evolution back then. If you think about it, if a bacterium or blue-green algae could evolve into humans, a tapeworm should be able to evolve into an elephant like creature, given enough time and the appropriate selection pressures.

“In evolutionary biology, the notion of irreversibility is known as Dollo’s Law after the Belgian paleontologist that first hypothesized it in 1893. He stated that once a lineage had lost or modified organs or structures, that they couldn’t turn back the clock and un-evolve those changes. Or, as he put it, “an organism is unable to return, even partially, to a previous stage already realized in the ranks of its ancestors.”

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